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Telecom Review has secured an interview with Amir Abdelazim, CTIO of Asiacell following their recent partnership with Nokia. He discussed in depth how Asiacell is deploying new technologies in Iraq to meet their customers’ needs and highlighted the reason for selecting Nokia as a strategic partner.
What are Asiacell’s plans to deploy new technologies and services in Iraq?

Asiacell has been the market leader in Iraq for quite some time. Our customers have high expectations from our digital and traditional services, as we constitute the first national Iraqi mobile operator in the market.

Our most important business initiative has been to deliver the most reliable and enjoyable experience to our customers. Our customers want a steady and consistent service, especially now as the digital platforms have become core to their lives. We have taken that into account in our planning and vision – to ensure that these services are delivered rightfully, focusing on customer satisfaction and a steadfast delivery, while maintaining the shareholders’ value. That being said, Iraq is a special market. Literally every part of Iraq is a standalone autonomous ecosystem, with different customers’ needs and different customers’ requirements. Our strategy has been to ensure that our services are distributed more evenly, delivering the right broadband services to the customers, enforcing our metro network and being ready to launch 4G in Iraq by the beginning of 2021.

How do you see those technologies improving Asiacell subscribers’ experience?

For Asiacell, digital transformation is becoming a lifestyle. This includes deploying the latest tools for customer experience management, digital services, customer value management, data lakes and big data deployments, as well as automating most of our operations. We are deploying a massive amount of data centres and new core nodes in our network across Iraq, as well as the latest technologies in fibre networks and transport services. These require a different set of tools and a different mindset within our teams, to ensure that this service is delivered the way it needs to be for all our customers.

We are also incorporating different levels of certification to future-proof our deployments. Asiacell has invested in making our broadband services 3G or 4G-ready in every site on our network and prepared for the deployment and launch of 4G early next year. We have also modernised our IP network to be future-proofed for the latest technologies and for the broadband services. In addition, we modernised the digital platforms that can act on top of these type of services and deliver them to the customers.

We are already discussing the required monitoring and network management tools with our partners to make this function. We have deployed different levels of automation in our service and network management. We have also ensured that our teams are trained accordingly, and that our role transitions from managing our network to managing the tools that manage our networks.

How can digital technologies such as artificial intelligence/machine learning improve operations in Asiacell network?

Implementing the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in the operational, network optimisation and customer-centric aspects, is a top priority. Currently, the latest service operating centres in Iraq, and maybe the whole region, are being deployed in Asiacell. We ensure that the end-to-end service, from the moment a customer experiences an interruption in their service, to the minute when this service is restored, is tracked and automated, using minimum human intervention, to ensure that the service is restored quickly.

What is the role of network optimization in Asiacell’s operations? Where do you see the highest impact?

Customers today do not have the patience to have their service disturbed.

Our operating model caters for that using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Adopting the latest technologies is very important for us, and this includes using AI, ML and various other tools to support both front-end customer-facing services and internal services. We use the expertise of managed services partners, through a goal-oriented type partnership, enabling us to make the best use of our infrastructure, human assets and tools.

What do you expect from your network optimization services provider? What makes the perfect managed services partner?

We expect to work as a team with the optimization service provider.  We ensure that the partner has the skills and understands the challenges of the Iraqi market. Here, cultural harmony is very important, together with encouraging ongoing change in the culture of Asiacell, to bring it as close as possible to the customer needs. Customer centricity and a reliable network are key components to align values.

The best managed services partner is one with a geographical and demographical footprint, where we are delivering the service. Therefore, we are spreading our services differently within different managed services providers where it fits the purpose.

We expect our managed services partners to ensure that our customers are served at the right standard. We ensure that our partners are aligned with our standards of service and they can provide services geographical and demographical locations where they are required. We expect our partners to treat our customers as their own so that we harmonically integrate into one organisation that puts the customer first.  We also expect our network planning and optimization partner to understand the latest technology and trends in the market, to educate both our employees and customers, ensuring they are delivered in the best fit to our customers. The availability, accessibility, and the depth of the support organisation behind our partner is also key when we choose a managed service or network planning and optimization partner.

Other key considerations include track record, physical presence on the ground, an understanding of the challenges in the region, and research and development capabilities into new technologies.

Why have you selected Nokia?

Nokia had the multi-vendor environment as part of their DNA.

Nokia is now a result of five or six different vendors merged into one, making the team rich in their multi-vendor experience, and flexible in terms of dealing with different types of equipment and technologies. The fact that Nokia reorganised to make Iraq a standalone focus region gave us a certain level of confidence that we are getting the right support from their organisation to ensure that the delivery of the service in Iraq is of the highest standard possible. We take 4G services seriously, as our customers have been waiting for it for some time. Therefore, we wanted to ensure we segregate the duties of our 4G launch correctly to provide a quality service. Nokia also have good multi-vendor tools and their people are used to working with multi-vendor environments. This gave us the comfort that they will be the right partner for us in delivering the network planning and optimisation services for our 4G launch in Iraq. We believe Nokia can deliver this together with Asiacell.
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